The electric scooter craze is the hottest trend in town. Flocks of the perky little things with names like Birds, Blue Ducks, Limes and Razors have popped up faster than mushrooms after a monsoon.
You’ll find them parked in pairs or as lonely singles all the way from Loop 1604 North to the historic missions on the South Side. Drive downtown on a weekend night and you’ll see folks whizzing around, wheeling along sidewalks full of pedestrians. By midnight, most will have vanished, picked up by “chargers” – mostly contract workers who collect the scooters nightly, recharge the batteries and return them in the morning to far-flung, random sidewalk stations.
This isn’t the first scooter fad. In 2000, the company behind the Razor Scooter sold more than 5 million human-powered “kick” scooters, kind of like skateboards with handlebars. Not long after, they were named Toy of the Year. By 2003, electric scooters started to emerge. Today’s ride-share e-scooters are the toys’ direct descendants.
Scooters are serious business now. Almost overnight, millions began appearing on streets. Fans hail them as the latest advance in “green” transportation. Proponents insist scooters, like auto ride-hail services Lyft and Uber before them, will help draw millennials and their incomes to town.
Some love ’em, some hate ’em.
There are drawbacks, many of which can be avoided if riders and scooter companies act responsibly. That’s a big unknown. San Antonio’s new six-month pilot program aims to address infractions with regulations and fines. Other cities are still mulling scooter rules.
Critics complain the wheeled conveyances are often abandoned in the middle of sidewalks or drives, standing or fallen, creating a hazard to traffic, cyclists, pedestrians and even those in wheelchairs. There are injuries, too.
During one recent month, San Antonio paramedics responded to 25 calls for injuries, from broken limbs to minor scrapes and gashes – most caused when riders fell. There are malfunctions and lawsuits. Yet, automobiles still cause far more damage.
My first e-scooter ride almost didn’t happen. I loaded the Bird app onto my phone, entered my credit card information, slapped on my bike helmet and gloves and hopped on the sucker. It didn’t work. Another Bird a few blocks away wouldn’t function either, but it charged me almost $10 for kick-pushing it around a parking lot trying to get it started.
I later learned a lot of Birds had similar issues that week. A few days later, I at last got a response to my email for assistance. (I think millennials have a lot more patience with mobile apps than my generation.)
Undaunted, I turned to Lime and went through the same app-loading drill and donned the head cover. Success! I enjoyed a zippy neighborhood tour. (I still have yet to see a single scooter rider other than myself wearing a helmet, but it’s hands down the best way to avoid head injuries. A brain is a terrible thing to waste.)
No matter how you feel, I’m pretty sure e-scooters are here to stay. As our roads become more jammed with cars, we have to find new ways to get around. E-scooters, bicycles, ride-hailing services and GoCars can connect with buses and trains.
My guess is the trend will peak and level off, and scooters will remain a piece of an increasingly interconnected transportation mosaic.
Let me know your opinion and experiences, readers. That’s it for now, I gotta scoot.